MotoGP Aragon: ‘Honda struggles extraordinary, my choice to leave’ - Espargaro

| | MotoGP
Picture: GeeBee Images

Pol Espargaro returns to the KTM MotoGP family for 2023 but his departure from Repsol Honda was not as one sided as opinion first believed.

The 31-year-old has faced a difficult time since signing for HRC, with the RC213V’s development crumbling despite a positive 2022 preseason and opening race success at Qatar. While talk often suggested he was surplus to requirement at the Japanese firm, Espargaro has since admitted there was an offer to stay on the table before he chose a return to Austria.

“I had an opportunity to stay in Honda, which this for me was huge respect from them,” Espargaro confirmed. “They know that the bike is not performing well so they kind of don’t put all the heavy weight on my back saying ‘You are not good enough, so go out of the project’.

“They give me an opportunity to continue, they like me, but I choose something else.

“I want to go in a bike where I know I’m going to be fast,” he continued on his choice to reignite his participation in the RC-16 project he started with in 2017. “I know the people that is going to surround me, to have everything in my hand to be fast. I go there to try to be the best GasGas in that case and then the best inside KTM.

“I have something extra, which is my experience in different manufacturers, also knowing how we start with this project and how the bike end up. So I think I can import a little bit more than just speed and pure results. I’m open for everything, trying to do my best in results but also in developing the bike to make a better bike for sure.”

While 2021 was a learning year for the Spaniard at Repsol Honda, expectations for 2022 ran high. A promising pre-season saw Espargaro back at the sharp end, and a podium in the inaugural race at Losail, two places in front of teammate Marc Marquez, looked to seal the deal and usher in a successful championship challenge. The promise, however, failed to materialise.

“I expected for this year, especially how we did the preseason and first race in Qatar, that it will be a good one. No crashing on the preseason at all. Being fast, one of the fastest all the time, in all the places and then we started the season. We start to face the problems. In Mandalika when the carcass of the tyres change, I was shocked. I said ‘What’s going on here? What’s this situation?’ I couldn’t understand and from that moment on, it was everything gone.

“Honda in the past years has been struggling a lot but this year it’s something extraordinary.

“We are also facing the new arrival of young guys together with a lot of Ducatis on the grid which is making the situation even harder. Especially starting from Saturday’s, it’s very difficult to qualify in the front and then having a good race. So we are struggling.

“The bike is not working well. We do not have parts to improve the situation and everything seems to be very slow. When you need to think so much about something it takes time and in competition, time means races, and losing, losing, losing and this is quite frustrating. But you know also in the other hand, the Japanese, normally when they bring something you know this is gonna have the same result that they expect. This is how it works.

“For sure for a rider psychologically is not easy, but physically and mentally I think I’m mature enough to face the problems in a different way and no regrets.

“I liked my decision. I learned a lot and I have an amazing experience. I have known amazing people that have made me grow so much and I will take that experience on the future to be a better rider.”

With MotoGP preparing for its final race on Spanish soil ahead of the demanding quartet of long haul travel, Espargaro is confident following the recent Misano test of rounding out the European summer with a strong result at home.

“We had a good test in Misano and I have had a positive week training and recovering at home, so I am looking forward to racing in Aragon this weekend,” he explained. “Of course all the local fans provide a nice boost and after what we found during the test, I’m aiming for a positive weekend.

“It’s important to start this period well because we have a lot of races in not a lot of time, so we need to build momentum and carry it to this series of races. Our first job is to confirm what we found in Misano and see how the weekend develops.”